Mission Delhi - Rishabh Dhawan, Daryaganj

Mission Delhi – Rishabh Dhawan, Daryaganj

Mission Delhi - Rishabh Dhawan, Daryaganj

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Young Rishabh Dhawan was a problem for his family. He dropped out of school, declined to finish his tenth grade. His father gently nudged him into his business—which was a pavement book stall at the book bazar held every Sunday in Daryaganj. The 16-year-old would sit mutely beside “daddy,” rarely uttering a syllable with any book buyer. The boy seemed too fragile, a misfit for this hard gritty world.

This was three years ago.

Cut to 2023. Rishabh is back in action in Daryaganj. He is at his father’s bookstore, which is no longer a pavement stall. But he is not at all like the earlier Rishabh. This afternoon, he working alone, and is boldly chatting with customers in a loud manly voice, uninhibitedly shooing off the pesky bargain hunters, and confidently recommending books to random footfalls.

“I have grown,” he admits, pointing out that the world too has changed. Rishabh’s father, Surinder, operated a popular stall in the book bazar, when it was held along the pavement (the bazar has lately moved to Mahila Haat, which is in the same area). Following the early Covid-triggered lockdowns, when the footpath market showed no sign of re-opening, his father took up a shop on rent, not far from where his Sunday stall used to be. Today, Dhawan Books is open seven days a week, and Rishabh operates it singlehandedly.

This afternoon, he tries to analyse his former self. “I had no confidence. I think I was also depressed. May be because I felt deeply that I was not as educated as others.” He was also acutely conscious of the struggles his father had undergone to built up his reputation in the book trade. “I doubted if I was up to the task to build on daddy’s mehnat (hard work), I had no belief in myself.”

During the darkest days of the pandemic, a profounder event turned Rishabh’s world upside down. His father suffered a heart attack, and became frail, obliging him largely to stay at home in Paschim Vihar. “I could no longer stay shy and nervous.” He was forced to confront head-on with his “inferiority complex.” Slowly sipping a cup of chai, Rishabh observes that “halaat (situation) changed me.”

Now, having found his bearings in the world, the bookseller has made a resolution for this new year. “I’m restarting my education… I will enrol myself in the open school.” Suddenly a customer enters, asking for any Ashish Bagrecha book. “I have ‘Dear Stranger, I Know How You Feel’”—Rishabh shoots back instantly, looking straight into the customer’s eyes.

[This is the 523rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]